Venezuela's shortage of radioactive material threatens cancer patients

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |  April 20, 2016 at 2:39 PM
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CARACAS, Venezuela, April 20 (UPI) -- A shortage of radioactive materials in Venezuela is threatening medical services as cancer treatments and diagnoses for patients are frozen, the Venezuelan Society of Nuclear Medicine warns.

Venezuela has not received a shipment of Iodine-131 or Technetium-99m so far in 2016. Iodine-131 is used in Venezuela as a less-aggressive treatment for patients with thyroid cancers, while Technetium-99m is used to diagnose breast cancers and to carry out bone scans that identify metastatic growths.

The University Clinic at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas used its last dose of Technetium-99m on Wednesday during a radioguided surgery. Aisa Manzo, a nuclear medicine specialist at the university, said the shortage has affected treatments, adding that the last technetium generator at the institution ran out of materials earlier this month.

"The availability of Iodine is none," Manzo said during a nuclear medicine conference. "We were receiving capsules until December and it was supposed that deliveries would restart at the beginning of the year, but that has not been regularized."

Manzo warns that although many patients have sought treatment in Colombia, Argentina and other countries, those who do not have that option are at risk of growing tumors in their neck, lungs and bones.

The Venezuelan Society of Nuclear Medicine said the shortage of radioactive material could affect at least 400 patients nationwide.

Ánderson Cepeda, deputy nuclear medic at the Dr. Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital in Caracas, said that no patients who have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at his hospital in 2016 have received treatment. Former President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez received cancer treatment at the Arvelo Military Hospital in the capital city.

Venezuela is going through a devastating financial collapse that has led to shortages of basic goods such as food and medicine. The South American country's National Assembly, run by a majority of opposition members, is attempting to declare a national humanitarian health crisis that would force the ruling government of President Nicolas Maduro to accept foreign medicinal aid.

José Olivares, president of Venezuela's Commission of Health, introduced the Bill to Address the Humanitarian Health Crisis during debate earlier this month and warned that Venezuelans living with HIV and cancer are particularly at risk, also criticizing Maduro and his health minister, Luisana Melo.

"In Venezuela the problem is not with pharmacies, the problem of Venezuela is that there are no medications," Olivares said. "I hope you can sleep peacefully, as hundreds of Venezuelans do not sleep peacefully because they can't find their medicines."

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